Try­ing to change the sys­tem from within

Re­view sug­gests that fix­ing work­place ha­rass­ment in the RCMP will take a long time

Cape Breton Post - - Editorial - Rus­sell Wanger­sky Rus­sell Wanger­sky’s col­umn ap­pears in 30 Salt Wire news­pa­pers and web­sites in At­lantic Canada. He can be reached at rwanger@thetele­gram.com — Twit­ter: @wanger­sky.

I un­der­stand how it hap­pens. In a small way, I’ve been there.

Suc­ces­sive re­ports on the RCMP have ham­mered the force for sys­temic work­place ha­rass­ment, say­ing the force isn’t fix­ing things.

Others sug­gest it’s a com­mon headspace for many po­lice forces. Les­lie Bikos, a former Lon­don po­lice of­fi­cer now study­ing po­lice forces, wrote in the Globe and Mail this week that, “The cul­ture of polic­ing was orig­i­nally built on white, tra­di­tion­ally mas­cu­line, con­ser­va­tive norms, and is based on hyper-mas­culin­ity, loy­alty and, above all, si­lence.”

Former au­di­tor gen­eral Sheila Fraser, re­view­ing work­place ha­rass­ment in the RCMP, had a stark anal­y­sis: “While the RCMP is cur­rently en­gaged in a con­sci­en­tious ef­fort to deal with ha­rass­ment, I am of the view that re­vised poli­cies and pro­ce­dures and train­ing will not ad­e­quately deal with the prob­lem. It will take a long time to fix and will re­quire a vastly dif­fer­ent ap­proach.”

I don’t doubt it.

Why? Be­cause of where it all be­gan.

I’ve never been a rookie po­lice of­fi­cer, but I have been a rookie fire­fighter. And while times have hope­fully changed for fire­fight­ers now, I can tell you that I ex­pe­ri­enced re­mark­ably, “white, tra­di­tion­ally mas­cu­line, con­ser­va­tive norms … based on hyper-mas­culin­ity, loy­alty and, above all, si­lence.” And that doesn’t serve any­one.

You’re work­ing com­pletely in­side the fire de­part­ment tent. My role mod­els, and lead­ers, were ex­actly that, at least on the out­side. They’re train­ing you to fight fires. They’re also train­ing you how to be­have and what is and isn’t ac­cept­able. How jokes are pos­si­ble about the most hor­ri­ble sit­u­a­tions. They show you a rule­book that, out­side the de­part­ment, would hor­rify the av­er­age per­son.

It doesn’t make it right (no, it’s still hor­ri­bly, hor­ri­bly wrong) but new po­lice of­fi­cers, like the new fire­fight­ers I knew years ago, were – and maybe still are – sur­rounded by it con­stantly.

If you’re tor­mented by a se­nior of­fi­cer, you shut up and take it. Hazed? Price of ad­mis­sion – if you com­plain, you’re weak. If you’re wracked with night­mares about vi­o­lent ac­ci­dent scenes, you shut your mouth and tell no one. They party hard – you party hard. You be­come more and more alone, or you find a flawed cop­ing strat­egy like ex­cess, se­cret drink­ing or drugs.

It is its own kind of con­di­tion­ing, and those who kick against the norms find them­selves iso­lated, or, more likely, the scape­goat tar­gets of more ha­rass­ment.

And it’s de­struc­tive, even to those who seem to fit in.

My strong, silent role model in one fire de­part­ment, af­ter I wrote about my re­spect for him, let me know about his slide into de­pres­sion and drug use, alone in all the same doubts and fears that I had. I think it’s far more com­mon than any­one knows.

Adults are the prod­uct of their up­bring­ing. Se­nior of­fi­cers are prod­ucts of theirs, as well.

Don’t for­get: yes­ter­day’s re­cruits, dipped and hard­ened in a very dark pool, are to­day’s se­nior of­fi­cers.

Change can take a long time, un­less it’s be­ing ham­mered away at al­most daily.

I think fire de­part­ments have come a long, long way – at least, I hope they have. I know many are on their way, among them, both of the fire de­part­ments I served with.

Po­lice forces?

From the out­side, I can’t help but think that the hos­til­ity of­ten face, plus their ex­pe­ri­ence in high-stress sit­u­a­tions, makes an us-or-them, you’re-on-the-tea-mor-off-it men­tal­ity even stronger. I know po­lice of­fi­cers are united in their be­lief that peo­ple on the out­side are not even equipped to un­der­stand what it’s like to ac­tu­ally wear those shoes. And I can see why it’s hard to change. I know how it hap­pens. The real prob­lem is how, once it’s en­trenched, to make it stop.

“If you’re tor­mented by a se­nior of­fi­cer, you shut up and take it. Hazed? Price of ad­mis­sion – if you com­plain, you’re weak”

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